Simplicity versus showy virtuosity

Simplicity versus showy virtuosity

Maybe I’m getting old or my tastes are too narrow but, after watching several concerts and musicians at Celtic Connections (Not exclusive to there, of course), I realised that the most enjoyable music for me was that which was most simple and straight foward—-not be confused with *easy*, as a lot of it is very tricky and was played extremely well by outstanding musicians. However, the more "clever" and "fancy" certain players tried to become, the less I enjoyed the music. In fact, without naming names, I found some of it quite boring.

Of course, I realise that many of the young virtuoso musicians might feel a bit restricted within the realms of traditional music and want to prove themselves. However, I don’t think the results are always very successful. I’m not talking about speed, variations/ornamenations here and there, imaginative arrangements, new ideas for rhythym etc i.e all the more accepted innovations but, sometimes, there can be so much deviation from the original "tune" that it is either unrecognizable or goes completely against the grain.

I realise that I’m generalising a bit here so please feel to agree, disagree, call me a boring old f-rt etc.

John

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John, I agree totally. The music of Micho Russell and Joe Cooley are just two perfect examples which immediately come to mind

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Being an old f-rt myself, I know very well what you mean. But let’s understand that the young virtuosos are trying to please/impress a greater number of listeners than us old f-rts. Remember, in most audiences there are far more non-musicians than musicians. These people are impressed with much of the frippery which we decry. The young virtuoso is trying to make a living and establish him/herself as a performer for the ages. Also, the performer is trying to please another very important person.

Him/Herself. Perhaps when the young virtuoso is also an old f-rt, s/he will wonder why s/he spent so much time getting to the point.

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There are plenty of good bands and musicians who reach out to a wider number of listeners and different age groups without alienating some of us old fogeys. I enjoy bands like Shooglenifty, Salsa Celtica etc who are very innovative—yet the music is fairly straight forward, in my opinion. Another example of a young(er) band I like is Blazing Fiddles. Yes, they are energetic, fast etc and appeal to a younger audience but they remain *true* to the music. There are many more but you’ll probably get my drift.

John

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I guess I’m a young fogey. Not only can’t I stand flashiness, I usually can’t stand bands unless they’re doing a nice arrangement of a song. For that matter, I’m finding it hard to even listen to most cd’s anymore; I’ve discovered a love for older vinyls. I’m just not into the music for a slick, produced, commercialised sound. I find it boring. A nice, older recording by a solo artist or duet or a session tape. Those are what inspire be lately. However, I recognize that my taste isn’t aligned with popular culture… and I’m ok with that.

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Jerball, not that you would, but stay away from Nine Fine Irishmen on the Strip in Las Vegas at all costs, well unless they give you one of those ubiquitous coupons for a free pint. ‘Nuff said. You have been warned.

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Hi Emily, was the music different this time, as opposed to your first visit to NFI back in September? Who was playing this time?

Eddie

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Re: Simplicity versus showy virtuosity

Jerball - do you like John Creavan and Paul Smyth? Lovely and simplistic but incredibly beautiful flute playing with light accompaniment. Great to learn tunes from!!! Paul’s CD just recently came out. Picked it up in Galway.

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Re: Simplicity versus showy virtuosity

Hullo Joyce!

Oooo talk about a loaded question, I’ll try to reign in the slagging. Well let’s just say the music last time was basically a rock band, like U2 covers etc, not even an attempt at any trad. This new ‘house’ band is called Ri Ra, I think, fronted nightly by a crazed & frantic young female fiddle player who makes Eileen Ivers look positively sedated. Backed up by a very nice guitar player & singer from Co. Mayo & a percussionist who I heard toured with Solas, plus a drum kit & electric bass every couple songs, the overall sound is loud, messy, overproduced, frenetic, & totally Vegas. They play "Fields of Athenry" like a rock polka, & bring out half a door for a scantily clad ‘champion’ to dance a hornpipe, after which she dances on the tables to the hoots & hollers of drunken gamblers.

Just say no.

Re: Simplicity versus showy virtuosity

R

Re: Simplicity versus showy virtuosity

Well there you go.

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I do indeed get your drift, John. You solve your own dilema.

"There are plenty of good bands and musicians…"

Not everything in life pleases everybody. That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla ice cream. Sounds like you’re all set to me.

In defense of the Las Vegas Irish Musicians

Well, what else can you expect in Las Vegas?

But seriously, there’s a reason why the show is the way it is, which is that they were told the pub wasn’t making enough money with the much more trad show they had originally. The musicians were told in the middle of August that they’d be fired if they didn’t pep it up and basically make it into a rock band. The original producer, a woman from Ireland, hadn’t the foggiest idea on how to produce a show that would be successful in Vegas, and wanted it to be this educational trad "cabaret" that showed traced the path of Irish music to America, through vaudeville, etc. Originally the whole cast was supposed to be from Ireland, and there were like 20 of them, including Dave Munley who was with De Danaan, and the first fiddler from Danu (I forget his name.) Believe it or not, Paddy Keenan also came out for a week or so (he refused to do it full time) as a favor to the producer, and when he left sent a hand-picked student of his in his place. The Irish people all had to go back after a couple of weeks because of a lot of issues with the terrible producer, related to visas; the last person from Ireland left at the end of August. She was a very nice trad singer and was very glad to leave. She simply refused to sing certain things that they were trying to add towards the end; she was upset that the reality of the show was not what she had signed on for. The producer was fired in August (basically the whole time she was involved she was in Ireland and they were sending her fake set lists for her "approval" since they had to make her think they were doing the original trad show when it was getting away from that more and more) and after she was fired the MGM execs started putting a lot of pressure on the band to make it a rock thing. They tried to change the whole terms of their employment (longer hours for less pay, housing no longer covered, threatening to fire people.)

For most of August, the band was still totally acoustic, with 1 or 2 fiddles, guitar, percussion, and the singer. There were two sets, the first pretty straight trad, the second more rock style, but still acoustic. On Saturday nights, the musicians’ one night off, the hotel hired a rock band, which made so much money that the pressure really got turned on the regular band. The band has the same core members now; they’re from New York, and they left everything and came out there to do something completely different than what it turned out they were expected to do, but apparently they managed to work out a contract to their satisfaction that makes it worth it to do the Vegas thing for a couple of years, save some money, and move on. The reality is that the Vegas audience is not interested in Irish music, and can’t be expected to be. A bar can’t make money in Vegas with a trad band; they tried, and it failed.

The sound system is also totally horrendous, which is not the performers’ fault at all. It does horrible things, especially to the fiddle. They have complained about it no end, and nothing was done; there was a lot of resentment that they were being blamed for things that were the product of one of the lousiest sound systems ever. (It sounds so much different in the mikes the musicians wear in their ears. They can and do pretend that’s how it sounds out front!)

I’m glad that they didn’t get fired, that they still have the gig, and that they are able to carve out a very comfortable living doing nothing but playing Irish music. How many musicians—heck, how many people—can make $70-80,000 a year, with food and lodgings paid for on top of that, working for only four hours a day, six days a week, doing something fun? These are people who really are good trad musicians, who can switch gears and do the Vegas thing as well. For example, the current fiddler has taught at Augusta and was apparently being seriously considered to join Cherish the Ladies at one time. These musicians now have many hours each day that they can use to work on the real music that means something to them, much more time than if they were working a day job. Then they can go play the gig and collect the cash, listen only through their earpieces, and pretend they don’t know how it really sounds as long as the MGM people are happy and pub is selling booze. There are so few opportunities to make such an excellent living from playing Irish music, and I’m glad that they actually are giving trad musicians this opportunity. More power to them!

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Touche, OF, you are exactly right!

While there this time, I talked a lot with Martin, the designated band front man/crowd handler. He recites poetry to the pub from a small balcony, sings, dances, works the crowd beautifully, & he’s from Pittsburgh with a background in storytelling, hired mainly for his ability to entertain & keep things upbeat. He told me all the things you have said, plus I knew as much from Joyce’s friend Anthony who was the piper you were referring to earlier. I also talked to Daryl the guitar player from Mayo, very very very nice, & I know all about the being handpicked from the New York scene as well. When I first got to the pub, I was slagging it pretty hard to my companion, so when Martin made his rounds, he asked me what I thought, & having just got back from Ireland, I told him. After a few pints, everything sounded a bit better, & to make amends, Martin asked me to be his partner for the Walls of Limerick to be danced for the crowd, so it was me, Martin, that stepdancer & Daryl from Mayo, & it was very fun, & very Vegas, & everyone had a good time, including me. But anyone who thinks they will get even a smidgen of the pure stuff at Nine Fine Irishmen (or anywhere in Vegas for that matter) is in for a severe disappointment which was my original intention in forewarning jerball. But thanks OF for all that! It’s a great gig if you can get it…. a nest egg to fund other ventures for sure. At the very least they keep the pub packed 6 nights a week to Wild Rover, Seven Nights Drunk & not infrequent bodhran solos. Fine by me, though, if you’re going to Vegas, I highly recommend Blue Man Group, poncho section instead. ;)

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Ostrichfeathers - I wish there was that sort of opportunity over here! I play good solid Irish traditional music for most of the time, and it tends towards a more *rocky* and (controversial) style at gigs, partly due to the skills of my band, and partly to do with playing the smaller *private* ones where they can afford to pay a bit better, and are therefore entitled to expect that bit more . I can’t imagine getting that sort of financial deal anywhere in the UK.

Getting back on to thread track, I do have to agree with John J to some extent on the virtuosity thing. Virtuosity is almost useless unless it goes hand-in-hand with good taste (hard to define, but we all know what it is), making a good sound (clear, precise, be it smooth or rough tonally) and having the ability to project these things to an audience. Many bands have some but not all of these things, and in my opinion it’s this division (all personal tastes being equal) that is the criteria for liking a band playing music.

It’s really quite difficult to analyse music and performance in this way. All these aforementioned qualities are needed or desired, musical prejudice needs to be stripped out (there are so many people who have this but would not dare to admit to it), and ideally music listened to in pleasant circumstances.

Not having technical virtuosity (but having a fair degree of technical competance), having the confidence in delivery, feeling for the music, and the ability to project sound and emotion is the other side of the coin, and equally as valid.

Jim

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To be honest, Jim, Em, Ostrich, I’m glad that I can still play music mostly for it’s own sake. The tale you told there, Os, I find rather distasteful, sorry to say it, and I feel like rejoicing in the purity of playing in a session… just because.

I have to admit to being a doom monger - right now I’m obsessed with the German campaign in the Eastern front, the whole thing just totally beggars belief - and European civilisation collapsed so quickly - so easily said with the gift of hindsight. I just so hope this century proves to be less horrible, but I fear the worst. What’s to become of my lovely wee boy, and my gorgeous wee daughter?
We reside, I suspect, in a mere hiatus between hostilities.

Please prove me wrong.

Danny.

Re: Simplicity versus showy virtuosity

Danny, I agree entirely… but to be quite honest it’s likely that the whole of modern civilisation rests in a hiatus between environmental hostilities, so do your thing while you can, take joy in the music and the being alive, expect the worst, but hope for the best (and plan for the latter).

Oh bugger I knew it was a bad idea calling in to the internet on the way back from the session…

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Re: Simplicity versus showy virtuosity

Perhaps the Old F*rts could be a section within the Glee Club - or should they be separate?

Two things from what I’ve read above.

We have occasionally had someone (sometimes a fiddler, sometimes a hammer dulcimerer) break into a frenetically oranmented tune, and after a while they stop and ask "Don’t you know this one?" when actually the truth is we don’t recognise it.

To quote from Jerball, above:
"I’m just not into the music for a slick, produced, commercialised sound"
I agree - for me music is primarily something I play to myself, but when I listen to others I’m more interested in "artistic merit" than in "technical / production-quality". I know that artistic merit and technical expertise overlap one another with no white space, but neither are they both the same thing.

Mrs Dave just rang to say dinners ready - gotta go.

Dave

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Re the comments from Jim where he states that he likes to pay "good solid Irish traditional music most of the time" but argues that it’s appropriate to deviate from this " where they can afford to pay a bit better, and are therefore entitled to expect that bit more". I agree that people are expected to get good value for their money but "good solid Irish traditional music" can easily fill this role. For instance, I went to see Altan recently and the tickets weren’t that cheap. They did, however, play straight traditional Irish music albeit in an highly accomplished fashion. All of them are extremely talented musicians but, for them, the music comes first. Everybody (well, me certainly) was more than happy with what we got.

Jim, by the way, I agree with most of what you said, It was just that small point.

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Sorry for the typo. I meant to say——" likes to *play* "

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I like the "pay" just as well! Do you players improvise? I can’t say I’m trad anything, but I’ve always played Irish tunes here in Vermont, USA, in the best way I can - that is: authentic Music, if not Irish, if you know what I mean.

I have not heard the fancy fiddlers you name above. I do improvise, on various musics, and get fairly "virtuosic" with it. But my concept is: always be sure everyone always knows what tune I’m playing, whether it’s a trad reel, a blues song, jazz tune, etc.

I object to improvisers who play the tune, do what they please, play the tune again, and expect acclaim. This is masternavelgazing. People want to hear the tune they like and know, and to leave the listeners out of it is not doing their job. Unless the player is so good that they deserve to be elitest and exclude their patrons……….

So I always come back to the tune, or stringly suggest the melody, rhythm, chords during my improv, esp after a particularly fanciful flight. That way, we are all grounded: me, the band, and the listeners. And the listeners can follow what I do, and enjoy it as much as I do.

So many players are lick players, and they try to impress with furiosity, so it all sounds the same very quickly. Old adage: Don’t play everything you know in your first solo.

When one plays the tune, even while improvising, as I have mentioned, the most music is heard. And it’s never boring, because each tune is individual, has its own life.

Something I notice, and wonder about: Soloists (fiddle, pipes, etc.) playing the exact tune, all the time, whilst the backup band does all manner of "interesting" things with chords and rhythms. 30 yrs ago, my guitarplayer played jazz chords to fiddle tunes, and I improvised for real, not just played the same thing over and over. (Yes, yes, this has its place! But not in such supposedly outre music, where it makes the music boring, not modern.) Guess I’m way ahead of the curve.

The fancy fiddling that says nothing I call "Digital Diarrhea".

Happy playing! - vlnplyr

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Joyce, yes. Those guys are great. Don’t have the albums, though. I did just get "The Irish Tradition - The Corner House" on vinyle this week. Ebay will be the death of me.

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Yes, Ebay can become a financially dangerous past-time. I do it when I’m bored at work…Lately I’ve been hooked on antique instruments. I have this old 2 row button accordion coming from Boston. And I just got this little wooden piccolo with and ivory head…supposedly it was made in the mid 1800’s……I sometimes buy CD’s from Half.com which is a part of EBay….

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Re: Simplicity versus showy virtuosity

"did just get "The Irish Tradition - The Corner House" on vinyle this week"

That’s a staggeringly good record. Let me recommend another trio disc on which Billy appears: the first Trian disc, with Liz Carroll and Daithi Sproule. Ferocious trio playing. See https://thesession.org/recordings/display.php/556

chris smith

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Yeah, that’s a pretty amazing recording.

Re: Simplicity /virtuosity/Nine Fine Irishmen

The bass player in Sin e Ri Ra at Nine Fine Irishmen, at New York New York in Las Vegas, is my brother, Kyle Turner. He got out there, from New York, like the others, in mid-November last year, and my understanding from him is that they were indeed looking for a bass for later in the show, when they’ve morphed into doing a lot of rock. He and the previous drummer, Steve Halloway, who is now touring with one of the Riverdance troops, knew each other in NY and had made a CD together quite awhile ago. His philosophy as a bass going into a new band is to play their music their way, so as to support their music, and learned their last two sets, from a cd they’d sent, on the plane on the way out. He still doesn’t play as much on the first two sets, which are Irish, as he does the last two (they play 9 PM - 3 AM, 6 days a week, with Mondays off), but he says he’s learning all the time, and that his style of playing for the Irish has changed considerabley since he first went out. They have a CD out, which was recorded about a month after he got there.

The dancer is Sharon Lynn, and I understand that she was the Overseas Champion in Ireland several years ago - Zina may know of her. She’s still active in doing shows - conventions, business groups, etc - and teaching. She and Kyle are working on a show for KNPR - yeah, radio - right now. She’s choreographing and he’s composing the music. She has suggested that young competition dancers might like the music he’s composing, so I’ll try to keep folks posted when there’s a sample available.

And yes, it’s Vegas. But I swear it’s the best show in town, and the most fun. They are all fine musicians. And as someone else said, really really nice folks. I enjoy the CD a lot, and so do my friends (well, they say they do!). It’s got a nice variety of tunes and songs and tempos, and the track where Sharon dances is a trip. I like Darryl’s vocals, Alana is a demon fiddler, and Martin keeps a crowd going (after a mandolinist friend of mine was out there and saw them he seemed to think our group could use an mc and a dancer). So as long as you don’t expect it to be a session, and enjoy it for itself, it’s a great time.

And if you go, say hello to the bass player for me -

CJ

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